Tagged: acoustic

Mastawesha (Ethiopiques 29): showcase of a great singer with unfulfilled potential

Kassa Tessema

Kassa Tessema, Ethiopiques 29: Mastawesha, Buda Musique, CD 860257 (2014)

I havn’t heard very many of the discs in Buda Musique’s Ethiopiques series though I’m aware that the bulk of the music released in that series has tended to focus on popular jazz, soul, groove and other Western-derived genres that took root and flourished in Ethiopia over the past 60-plus years with an emphasis on the music from the 1950s to 1975. Occasionally the series will venture into lesser known home-grown genres and folk traditions in Ethiopia and Volume 29, focusing on singer Kassa Tessema (1927 – 1973), is one such outlier. This collection gathers up two albums’ worth of material Tessema recorded and released on vinyl: the first eight songs come off an album released in 1972 and the remaining five from an album made posthumously from tapes recorded privately and released in 1976. According to the sleeve notes that accompany this CD, these albums are the only recordings of Tessema’s ever to have been released on vinyl.

On all 13 songs that Tessema sings, he accompanies himself on the krar, a six-stringed triangular lyre, picking the strings note by note instead of strumming the instrument with a pick or plectrum to play chords. This technique of playing the krar, said in the CD sleeve notes to be dying out in Ethiopia, lends all the songs a mournful, introspective air as well as showcasing Tessema’s remarkable voice. The melancholy mood suits the subject matter of the songs, several of them being about love lost, separation from one’s love or the pain of being alone. Quite a few songs like “Fanno” and “Gelel” have a martial theme and sometimes listeners may wonder whether, when Tessema is singing about love and separation, he is referring to a real woman, a romanticised ideal of womanhood or even Ethiopia idealised as a woman. That Tessema comes across as loyal and patriotic almost to a fault is not surprising given his background: entering the Imperial Bodyguard of Emperor Haile Selassie at the age of 17 years, he remained there for the rest of his life and saw action in the Korean War in two tours of duty from June 1951 to April 1952 and from April 1953 to April 1954. No other musicians or instruments feature on the album: all you hear is Tessema and his krar.

If the songs from the 1972 album are minimal and sometimes quite strange to the Western ear, the later songs are different again: sung and performed in different keys, the tracks can have the feel of blues music. The emotion in Tessema’s singing can be quite intense and almost overwhelming. Although he still plays his krar by fingering, the notes almost run into one another, tremolo style. As the 1976 songs were recorded in a private setting, the quality of the recordings is not the best and the krar can sound a bit blunted. Even so, with what exists, the sound is rich and suggests that had Tessema not died prematurely, his style could have continued to develop into a powerful and highly evocative musical entity capable of an amazing range of emotional expression.

While there are no sing-along pieces here, Tessema more than amply compensates with his playing and his deeply sonorous voice that conveys a deep feeling and which commands respect no matter what he happens to be singing about. The little that survives of his work is to be treasured indeed.

Aq’Ab’Al: black metal psychedelia exploring the journey through darkness to light

Volahn Aq'Ab'Al

Volahn, Aq’Ab’Al, Iron Bonehead Productions, CD (2015)

One of the hardest-working musicians in black metal has to be one Edward Ramirez, the chief mover (I’ll say!) and shaker of that group of southern Californian bands known as the Black Twilight Circle whose inspiration is pride in their Mexican-American heritage – in particular the mythology and belief systems of the Aztecs and Maya. Ramirez has a hand in several BTC bands like Acualli, Arizmenda, Blue Hummingbird on the Left, Kuxan Suum and Muknal. With such a wide-ranging involvement on his part, and usually playing on all instruments, it goes without saying the bands are much the same in style and sound, and the differences among them are in their lyrical subject matter. Volahn’s particular interest is in celebrating the gods and worldview of the Maya (Ramirez has part-Mayan ancestry), and the place and journey of human souls towards enlightenment within this ideology. “Aq’Ab’Al” itself explores the dark passages that the soul needs to traverse to achieve transformation and enlightenment.

The music is usually fast and furious to the point of bloodthirsty derangement and even beyond, but there is also deeply felt emotion: in many songs, melancholy, longing and a sadness too intense and deep for words to describe are present. A song can begin strongly and aggressively with screeching, howling vocal – Ramirez’s motto must be “why sing when you can scream?” – and continue this way for several minutes; but as the music progresses, the mood changes and a more reflective, sadder state follows. Result: tracks can come in with a roar and go out quietly. Volahn’s style is raw, unadorned black metal, heavy on frantic vibrato riffing, with guitars, percussion and vocals out of whack with one another, and everything on fire. Ramirez’s singing usually is cloaked in thin dark cold echo and as a result there is a slight cavernous and dark edge to the songs.

One of the more enigmatic pieces on the album is “Bonampak” which for the most part is the usual scorched-earth blast of guitar rage and vocal screecherama but then ends unexpectedly with a beautiful melody of acoustic guitar and flute that captures the feeling of closeness to and wonder at nature in its tropical glory. “Quetzalcoatl” which follows is a bit more distinctive than the others with brief shrill lead guitar motifs and a bluesy feel near the end. Sometimes when I listen to the album, I have the feeling that Ramirez played more or less continuously and then cut the music into six parts as songs seem to take up music, ideas and moods from preceding tracks.

Listening to such relentless music over nearly a whole hour can be very wearying; the highlights start coming about halfway through the recording with unexpected quiet flourishes of acoustic music that have a flowing Latino quality and possibly some flamenco guitar influence, after the otherwise chaotic excess of runaway guitar, screaming voice and drum battery. The intense overwrought delivery might not suit everyone and can even be a turn-off, and maybe Ramirez could have tried to sort the stream-of-consciousness music into more definite songs. For sheer power and manic fervour though this album is hard to beat.

Contact: Volahn (Facebook), Crepusculo Negro

Spiritual Rash


After eight years since I first heard her two Dekorder LPs, I find I’m still struggling to understand or make much sense of the work of Kuupuu, the very talented Jonna Karanka, member of Avarus and one of the more incomprehensible of the fey Finnish acoustic brigade. Sisar (EM RECORDS EM1112LP), her 2013 release for Em Records, has some moments at the start when it seems possible to penetrate the gauzy veneer of rainbow lights and misty veils, but I lose the thread in short order. In these recordings from 2009-2011, she continues to use multiple acoustic instruments to create amazingly exotic sounds, and tape loops to underpin the music with clunky, deliberately-irregular rhythms. It’s divine, but what does it mean? The language barrier may be one problem, although she isn’t intent on conveying “meaning” through song, by which I mean she is not setting out to be a songwriter as far as I can see, not even when her breathy vocals are used to add one more layer on top of what is already a very cluttered surface. The translations of the titles into English suggest poetic themes such as the moon, the passing of time, plant life, friendships, and spiritual leanings; plus the brilliantly hermetic title ‘Viisikko Kuusikossa’ which translates as “The Famous Fifty-Six”. The humming bird collage cover is also nice.

The Memory Men


The Static Memories are Gus Garside and Dan Powell, names probably familiar to anyone living in Brighton UK where it’s fair to say there is a “thriving” culture of live gigs and events such that all eager fans of improvised music, noise, jazz and all sorts of uncategorisable performed endeavours will find their needs well catered-for. Garside and Powell also have connections to Nil, OMSK, The Spirit of Gravity and arc, and while they’ve been playing as a team for eight years now, it turns out that this – The Bloudy Vision of John Farley (THE SLIGHTLY OFF KILTER LABEL sok049) – is their first studio album. They made it using the recording engineer skills of Robert Plater, and it’s realised using double bass, guitar, percussion, but also unspecified “electronic” interventions, an addition that gets my hedgehog prickles twitching in anticipation. Sure enough, the surface sound of this splendid duo delivers a life-enriching dose of acoustic instrument sounds blending harmoniously with weird and illogical electric kaboozles, a blend which I’ve always found most pleasing. I’d go further and suggest the music of The Static Memories is more enjoyable than a good deal of the rather poised and staid music that has, within living memory, been published under the banner of “electro-acoustic improvisation”, and although it would be possible to flatten the Brighton pair into that particular pigeonhole, they escape from it as easily as a greased-up lizard scurrying out of a wooden shoebox.


The album – titled in such a way that the unwary might at first glance mistake it for a John Fahey pastiche, is subtitled “restructured improvisations”, which suggests there was a strategy of re-editing or overdubbing at some stage, but it’s hard to discern where the editing knife may have fallen, since the music sounds so assured, whole, complete, so right-first-time. To add further resonance, I’ll single out a remark from Paul Khimasia Morgan the label owner, who describes the music as “improvisation…brutally shorn”, a phrase which invokes the shears of a metaphysical barber, and vividly captures the raw and naked minimalism of The Static Memories; it is highly honest music to me, neither musician nor instrument is pretending to be that which it is not, and the electronic components are fully integrated into the body of the work. I’ll also reiterate a phrase from Gavin Burrows, who has seen them live, and calls their performance “a super-magnet in a room of steel screws”; this compressed image summarises the mesmerising qualities of the duo, who when they get into the “zone” are capable of exerting this powerful and fascinating force on the listener, an energy that operates on the level of natural biological rhythms like breathing and pulsebeats, regardless of how alien and atonal the surface sound may be. Thus The Static Memories build on lessons learned from Pauline Oliveros and her deep breathing methodology, and incorporate them into a rugged, home-grown and very accomplished method all of their own. Superb record! Arrived 25 June 2014.

The Summoner: portrayal of grief and loss not as affecting as it could be


Kreng, The Summoner, Miasmah Recordings, MIACD039 (2015)

Its tracks tracing the six stages of grief from denial to acceptance – though there may be dispute among psychologists as to whether grief can be neatly packaged and presented in a narrow linear structure – this recording is a sombre shadowy journey into an underworld where the realm of the living and the realm of the dead contact and merge imperceptibly. The music ranges from cold soughing ambience, made up of spirits in perpetual itinerant restlessness, to sudden twisted chamber music / orchestral clutter or scramble, to repetitive death doom metal drone. Although the tracks suggest a definite linear narrative that suspiciously mirrors other distinctively Western cultural narratives – one thinks of the product life-cycle that marketers refer to, which I was taught at university – the actual music itself often ducks and weaves, quiet one moment, loud and forceful the next and then suddenly quiet and passive again, as if protesting or mocking the strictures
placed upon it.

The album is not easy to follow as a result of its unexpected twists and turns – not that Kreng main-man Pepijn Caudron has ever set out to make very straightforward music since he started the Kreng project – and listeners might find themselves wishing that he be more consistent and get to the point of whatever it is he’s trying to say. This perhaps is the unfortunate effect of imposing a cultural construct on the music and the phenomenon it’s referring to. Perhaps it’s not until a person has really experienced a profound personal loss or some of the emotions represented on this album that s/he might be able to approach it on its terms. Although having gone through depression myself, and having heard other music made by people who also suffered from depression and who drew on their experience, I did find the track “Depression” not quite as deep or affecting as it could be: there was no sense of deep emptiness, the impression of having a hole punched in the
centre of one’s being or feeling sudden panic that I’ve detected in other people’s recordings and which I can vouch does happen.

Track 5, intended to be the album’s crowning glory and summation, features both orchestral and death metal music, and I have to say I found this piece not very impressive: the dark orchestral music sounds like generic horror-movie soundtrack fluff and there’s no sense of terror or mystery that something profound might be happening. The slow church-organ transition from foreboding orchestral doom to metal doom is beguiling enough; if only it didn’t get shunted aside by sledgehammer-blunt death doom guitar bludgeon, courtesy of guest band Amenra. Again, this part of the track is a disappointment: we get nothing new here that a thousand million other doomy death metal acts haven’t already done, over and over.

After all is said and done, listeners might find themselves back at square one after a trip that didn’t take them anywhere much. The first half of the album was far better in creating atmosphere and a strong sense of dread but it was let down by some very mediocre music in the second half. This isn’t a work I’d recommend for people who are mourning the loss of a much-loved relative or friend unless as part of a general suite of recordings of varied music on loss and grief generally.

Contact: Miasmah Recordings

Sky and Forest

Everyone has a Photo of the Ocean

Got a solo cassette from Mitch Greer, who is one half of The Lickets from San Francisco. He appears modest and reticent about his accomplishments on Everyone has a Photo of the Ocean (NO LABEL), to the extent that he only published 20 copies and mailed out seven of these – so I suppose I’m one of the seven recipients. The process of creation he describes is interesting, as he reaches for phrases like “dream-like state”, “in a haze”, “hypnotic” and “meditate” to describe aspects of the production. What resulted is an intriguing mix of music, such as the lengthy ‘Piano Song’ or the acoustic guitar of ‘Sky and Forest’, and sound art; everything manifests itself as uncertain and ill-defined, fuzzy around the edges to add to the general mood of ambiguity. While it may seem rather process-heavy at first, it’s my guess that Greer is unrolling some subtle compositional strategies here; every track has the reality-sapping effect of a desert mirage, and induces odd trance-like effects in the listener. Very effective use of repetition, duration, and restrictions in the overall framework. As to duration, it’s a surprisingly long tape – side one is over 50 minutes of music. This somehow seems more focussed and effective than some of the recent releases I’ve heard from The Lickets. Cover image is also quite ingenious; seems to depict the futility of a photographer attempting to capture one of nature’s fleeting moments using their digital camera. The same Puckish will-o-the-wisp qualities inhabit this release. Arrived 28 May 2014.

Foxfur & Rarebits

The Iditarod no longer exist as such, but the duo of Carin Wagner and Jeffrey Alexander were active for five years from about 1998 onwards, and are reckoned by many to have had a good deal of influence on what is loosely regarded in the UK as a renewed interest in acoustic, song-based music, a trend labelled by some as “neofolk”. Come to that, The Iditarod did collaborate with Sharron Kraus on at least one release, although Kraus is somewhat more explicit about her interest in investigating ancient ballad forms and folk-song. From this LP compilation Foxfur & Rarebits (MORC RECORDS morc #68), it’s harder to nail down where The Iditarod are coming from, but a distinct and rather eerie chill emanates from these fragile, brittle cuts of tranceificed acoustic guitar ripple-picking backdrops of Alexander (later of course Black Forest / Black Sea), and the wispy, slightly poised singing voice of Wagner. Themes of forest, weather and animal life are there in the track titles, but the lyrics tend to remain elusive and sketchy, almost to the point of starkness. It’s like hearing the first Trees album boiled down into a thin soup, then strained through a colander to remove all the meaty chunks. The duo tip their plumed cap at early Pink Floyd for one track, their resigned and gloomy take on ‘Julia Dream’, and elsewhere use studio effects very sparingly to convey a sort of hand-made psychedelia. Melancholic, dirge-like, this LP will come to inhabit your musty manor with pallid ghosts of white-faced maidens and other lost souls. From 22 May 2014.


Haven’t heard from the exceptional harpist and vocalist Hélène Breschand for some time, when in 2010 we noted her Double-Peine duo album with Sylvain Kassap where she supplied unearthly mystery voices to that troubled film-noir soundtrack of the mind. Here’s her latest solo release for Franc Vigroux’s label, now shortened from D’Autres Cordes Records to Dac Records, and it’s a lengthy instrumental mediation on the theme of Les Incarnés (DAC20141), a word which roughly translates as “In The Flesh”, or may have connotations of (divine) incarnation – The Word made flesh. Breschand performs everything with either amplified or acoustic harp and adds her spectral voice to the layers of sound, producing a slow and grandiose statement, changing the mood from solemn, frightening, lonely and joyful – running the listener through a veritable briar patch of emotional turmoil. She’s capable of producing extremely subtle, delicate and near-melodic passages which must require considerable grace and skill in their execution. Then the next moment she’s creating nine types of merry Industrial Heck and causing the metallic walls to come crashing around us. In all her strategies, she produces fascinating and compelling music / sound art, never once descending into the morass of “good taste”. Atmospheric, near-gothic, chilling, yet also overpoweringly beautiful. The tone and themes of the record are well captured by the cover photograph made by Jean-Marc Bouchez, which pictures Breschand inside one of those European 15th-century canopied tombs, looking for all the world as though she had just climbed out of the sarcophagus after a refreshing sleep, and put on contemporary summer clothes to greet the viewer. What secrets from the past will she disclose? Arrived April 2014.

The Citrico Vibe


Tetuzi Akiyama & Anla Courtis
Naranja Songs

After wading chest deep in sound camps that were almost polar opposites, avantist nomads Tetuzi Akiyama and Anla Courtis have finally bumped into each other somewhere in the middle ground with the Naranja Songs c.d. Tetuzi has teetered on the brink of inaudibility with Günter Müller and the ultra-quiet, walking on eggshells onkyo scene and has upped the volume; his microscopic gesturing temporarily put on hold. While Anla has down-noised a smidgeon since his tenure with clatterists Reynols and collaborations with Daniel Menche and Okkyung Lee.

Surprisingly Naranja… has only just seen release action having been initially hatched in Buenos Aires back in 2008. Its four tracks of measured acoustic guitar improv can be split into two easily discernible halves. The methods of application, in essence, tell us that it’s a plucked versus catgut-bowing world that this duo inhabit. “Mind Mochileros” and “The Citrico Vibe” provide a halting and mildly dischordant landscape, with Tetuzi’s needling scribbles, tweaks and pings acting as a counterpoint to Anla’s blurred, propulsive frottage. The more agitated and forceful “Springs and Strings” and “Los Frets Nomades” both lean heavily on foreign objects and random bowmanship (resp.) with a light industrial ambience coming to the fore on the latter piece; conjuring up a choir of lathes, their rough tongues rasping in unison.

Aside from Derek Bailey, Roger Smith and a small handful of other worthies, the art of acoustic free guitar appears to be approaching a near dead end, probably because it’s a sound source that suggests a narrowing of possibilities, compared to the all singing, all dancing electric. Messrs Akiyama and Courtis wont berate you with a rolled up newspaper to the noggin to get you into their hollow-bodied mode of thinking. In an unassuming/understated way, they just politely suggest that this approach should be taken out of his mothballed locker and re-evaluated every so often and that’s fine by me.

And…I think there could be another contender for “The Golden Rotring Award of 2014”. Feast your eyes on Hana Taherasako’s stunning artwork concerning three days in the life of a decomposing apple; the final picture revealing a leering, grimacing skull.

Shô Me The Way


Sarah Peebles with Evan Parker, Nilan Perera, Suba Sankaran
Delicate Paths: Music for Shõ

‘Taking time’ along ‘Delicate Paths’ produces curious audio minutiae throughout this set of careful arrangements for shô – the 17-piped mouth organ associated with Japanese gagaku music – which includes duo improvisations with Evan Parker, guitarist Nilan Perera and vocalist Suba Sankaran; an electroacoustic assemblage of nature recordings made in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and a set of solo tonal explorations by composer Sarah Peebles. However, to characterise this music as ‘slow’ might be to impose a comparison where none is warranted: if performances proceed at a crawl, it’s likely because they arise from an unusually still state of mind, quite possibly influenced by the sine wave-like convergences issuing from Peebles’ chosen instrument, which build to a near-climax in the album’s latter stages. Indeed, self-hypnosis is suggested by the tonal blossoming that emerge during the four ‘Resinous Folds’ pieces, while co-performers display an uncommon level of sympathy in duo settings.

Inspired by tone clusters and tuning pieces drawn from Japanese gagaku music 1, these explorations convey a ‘contemplative’ sound that Peebles explicitly distinguishes from any idea of ‘easy’ listening; rather a singular, timbral complexity that envelopes and dissolves stray thoughts. The drawback for more impatient listeners might be the concentration required for the longer stretches that seem to hang without appetite for drama, in which case satisfaction may well be found along the three ‘Delicate Paths’ in which select guests provide contrast without contrivance, with restraint verging on ceremonial; notably so in ‘Delicate Path (Sandalwood)’, in which Suba Sankaran’s snaking vocals curl and disperse like incense smoke upon Peeble’s rising tonal currents.

A more extra-terrestrial phenomenology occurs ‘In the Canopy (Part 1)’, the shô held like a candle in a churning cavern, metallic tonality spiralling outwards into a fading universe. And yet the sounds emanate from sources natural: field recordings of birds and insects captured during Peebles’ travels in New Zealand. The stillness of the surroundings – not to mention the alchemical importance of bees audible in the environment 2 – prompted pause for thought and a hint of ‘that which is just beyond our perception’ 3, which seems an apposite designation for the unusual beauty of these eight pieces.

  1. Which Peebles studied in Japan in the 1980s.
  2. Black bees wax, known as cerumen, formerly comprised the coating of reeds for shô.
  3. As it translates from Maori phraseology.

A Night at the Opera


Lithuanian composer Arturas Bumšteinas pulls off a nifty conceptual flourish with his Epiloghi (UNSOUNDS 39u) composition, joining the dots between a number of otherwise unrelated fields of endeavour in sound art, theatre design, opera and philosophy. The basic building blocks of the piece are passages of acoustic sound effects, all realised using antique noise-making equipment that you’d have found backstage at the Baroque theatre for when they needed sound effects like thunder or storms at sea. If you’ve ever seen The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, you’ll click that Terry Gilliam has a similar interest in the visual props for that style of theatrical bravado. Bumšteinas and his crew had to scout around various European theatre museums to find these rattling and wheezy noise-makers. If any of this puts you in mind of Luigi Russolo and the Futurists, that is precisely the idea; the subtitle of the work is “Six Ways of Saying Zangtumbtumb”, and there’s a sample from a recording of Marinetti’s intense vocal babbling on one track. Apparently even this doesn’t constitute enough conceptual layers for our young Lithuanian, since he matches the Futurist Orchestra’s “family of noises” with six basic human emotions – desire, hate, love, sadness, joy and wonder – a shopping list which has been culled directly from the lost opera Dafne of 1597, composed by the Italian musician Jacobo Peri, and a work which is generally understood by musicologists and historians to be the first work that we could reasonably describe as an “opera”. Lastly, a 17th-century philosophical treatise by Descartes completes the conceptual structure. Whew. It’s to his credit that Bumšteinas outlines all of this complexity in just two paragraphs of concise, factual sleeve notes.

I suppose the real complexity is embedded in the work, and the listener is rewarded with the enjoyable task of unpacking six tightly-packed suitcases of ideas and sound-art from the album. The theatrical sound effects are used very sparingly, and not at all with the aggression which I always assumed propelled the angry young Futurists when they unleashed their acoustic roarers on an unsuspecting public (although in fact it seems The Art of Noises was nowhere near as furious or violent as we might have supposed). The works flow deliciously, guided by the exquisite harpsichord and piano passages played by Christine Kessler; and while I’m pretty hopeless with classical music, even I can spot the quotations from Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy’ which are seamlessly embedded into the fabric of ‘Epilogue 5. Joy’. If I am right, this leads one to suspect that further clever pastiches from musical history are woven elsewhere into this unusual composition. The album concludes with a related piece, the 22-minute ‘Night on the Sailship’ which contains no music at all, and was created exclusively using the historic theatre noise machines and other stage machine components that required cogs, pulleys and winches. It points out what an elaborate and complex machine the Baroque theatre could be; small wonder that the technicians of the day had to be trained like sailors to operate the rigging, as the composer indicates in his notes. One imagines that getting the curtain to raise was an operation as difficult as hoisting the mainsail on board a tea clipper. ‘Night on the Sailship’ casts itself as the soundtrack to this imaginary sailing vessel, full of atmospheric creaks and rattles, and it’s an ingenious stroke of acoustic composition made using inanimate objects in a massively innovative manner. We’ve always found the work of Bumšteinas never less than intriguing, but this is his best yet. From February 2014.


Count The Clock


Dirty Purple Turtle are a Swiss combo doing a plausible pastiche of rock music styles on Medicine & Madness (SPEZIALMATERIAL RECORDS SM044CD025)…mixing the now-famous unstoppable drumming rhythms of Klaus Dinger (Neu! and La Düsseldorf) with minimal synth noise and vocalising that inherits the blankness of a million Human League impersonators and the laid-back stoner vibe from certain strains of American punk…elsewhere, we hear pleasing electropop melanges that are just the right side of the “Cold Wave” camp to remain enjoyable and approachable, having mutated their way down some sliproad off Ralf Hutter’s Autobahn. The trio of Daniel Zimmermann, David Zingre and Lukas Pulver do all the songwriting and make the music; Zimermann supplies most of the sounds with eighteen hands, while Zingre drums with feet of an impala. The variety and texture is added to a large degree by the talented guest vocalists, which include Sean Frank Claassen, Severine Steiner and Reto Wittwer, but it’s Zoe Binetti who stands out for me, bringing the correct amount of drama-school precision to her tracks. On ‘Gods Left Eye’ she spits out a clipped monotone recit with the perfect balance of cynicism and desperation. Matter of fact, all the singers / vocalists are required to limn a portrait of some uncertain future time where everyone is already half cyborg or else has simply had the humanity crushed out of them by market forces, yet they still manage to retain an iota of dissent and rebellion in their tone. To that end their voices are almost invariably fed through a battery of distortion and flattening effects. The cover photo hints at this dystopia, with the usual “concrete jungle” imagery and the old “railings” photography cliché suggesting that cities are no more than a prison for the populace, with an armed and helmeted police guard vigilantly surveying the compound. Since they apparently share common ground with France’s most elegant urban paranoiac Franck Vigroux, maybe they sneak over the border in a VW van and team up with him some day. From 2nd January 2014.


More cello goodness from Fred Lonberg-Holm once again teaming up with the Swiss woodwind fellow Christoph Erb, last heard from with 2013’s Feel Beetrr. With addition of Keefe Jackson on sax and bass clarinet, and second cellist Tomeka Ried, you’ve got a winning combination of earthy and eerie tones happening right there in the room while you enjoy a snack of strong black coffee and organic biscuits. Duope (VETO-REC / EXCHANGE 008) is explicitly intended to be “exploring the options of sound” and perhaps no more than that, so everyone playing is moving beyond the narrow expectations of free jazz or improvisation and just creating bucketloads of fascinating tones and ear-crumpets, just for the pure joy of doing it. Strange moanings and heaving stretchy forms wrap around each other like gigantic friendly tadpoles holding a wrestling match beneath the sea. No attempts to fall back on syncopation or swing feeling, and yet the internal logic of each writhing episode is highly dynamic, the lifeforms and organisms constantly dividing and multiplying in unexpected fashion. However you can also feel the jazz intuition from all four players underpinning the work; when classically-trained musicians attempt anything vaguely atonal like this, assuming they can even do it without breaking into a superior smirk at their secret knowledge that it’s not “real” music, it usually ends up stiff, awkward, contrived. Not here, mates. Beautiful screenprinted chipboard cover, as usual. Arrived 14 January 2014.


Vivid and beautiful recordings of exotic birds, frogs and insects abound on Morne Diablotins (GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 139), a collection of immaculate field recordings made by Rodolphe Alexis. Its subtitle is “a walk among the Lesser Antilles, Guadeloupe and Dominica,” and the creator’s intention was to catch a glimpse of the sort of unspoiled vistas the Caribbean Islands may have presented to the eyes and ears of 15th century man, i.e. before Columbus and (my forebears) the Pinzon Brothers set foot on the Bahamas. Alexis did his work by carrying his equipment to the large national parks and nature reserves of the Antilles, areas of which retain their “primary forests” 1 on their volcanic slopes. Net result is another classic Gruenrekorder release of simple, unpretentious beauty. It’s all great, but the 18-minute recording of ‘Grand Etang at Dusk’ is stunningly beautiful, and its utter serenity should pass on a palpable sense of inner peace to the listener, allowing us to regain a strong connection to the very roots of the world, the essence of creation. Parrot-loving Rodolphe is also a sound designer, installation artist, and electro-acoustic composer associated with Double-Entendre and the Vibro revue. From 17 December 2013.

  1. Some also use the term “old-growth forests”. It denotes a woodland that has achieved great age without any significant disturbance and thus boasts many ancient and unique ecological features.